I have a confession: I’m a nerd. That’s right; a pun-loving, glasses-wearing, life-long learner, a lover of science and politics and all things academic. I am involved in departmental clubs and avidly uninteresting at parties unless I have someone to talk to about some article they just read or the latest weird science-y news. I have always been the teacher’s pet, and I am that person who will stop in the hallway to chat up my professors or go for a beer with my past teaching assistants whose books I have borrowed.
Despite this nerdy passion, something is getting in the way of my love of learning, and I’m not talking expensive textbooks, food plans, or tuition fees that just won’t quit. What I’m about to admit is profoundly upsetting for anyone in my position . . . but I think I might have chosen the wrong place for post-secondary.
I mean, based on my interests, it sounds like I should be at least a promising university candidate. Right? The University of Victoria is supposed to be a world renowned centre of research that welcomes nerds like me with open arms. In the beginning, it was like that; you could say it was love at first sight. My first-year professors were inspirational world-travellers who left me feeling empowered, like I could change the world and be the next Al Gore. By second year, most of my faculty knew me on a first name basis. I was involved in clubs and other clever department acronyms. I knew my office administrator’s life story, I knew which professors were doing research projects over the summer, and I received glowing recommendations from faculty for upcoming exchange opportunities . . . the future looked bright.
But I’m not coming back. Nope. This nerd can’t do it. You know why? Because I’m having panic attacks about what might happen to my mental health if I end up living in a basement suite with no windows, no heat, and four small screaming children living upstairs . . . again. Or worse: I could be living in a tent, which is what one of my friends was forced to do for two weeks last semester. Or, even worse: I could end up in the homeless shelter, which is where one student told me he was living as he desperately asked when he could come check out my $600 per month illegal windowless room in an unfinished basement located 40 minutes away from the university.
It doesn’t help when I call my friends from Kamloops, Calgary, or Quebec about these problems. (Sorry, we’re saying ‘challenges’ these days, right?) They tell me something along the lines of “I’m so sorry. My house is great, and I found it in August. Have you tried looking earlier, like July?” Or, “Maybe you should join the gym to work out some stress.” That’s a good idea, I say; except we have to pay more than $200 per year for a full gym pass. At this point, there is usually the deep, awkward silence of disbelief and pity over the phone, and I can’t help wondering why on earth I chose to study at what seems to be the only university in Canada where it’s next to impossible to find housing and you have to pay that much for a gym.
So, as I was looking up tenant rights, B.C. building codes, and panicking over where I might live next year, I remembered the new motion that Victoria mayor Lisa Helps proposed on April 2 which would allow people sleeping in their vehicles to be exempted from getting ticketed. This was great news for more than a few friends who had put time and effort into making a liveable travelling van as a solution to the housing crisis, only to find out they had nowhere to park it.
Which brings us to where I am now: writing this open letter after having seriously decided that taking a year off to work and build a tiny house is actually a good solution to the total insanity that is finding a place to live in Victoria. The fact is that this city has less than a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate, and I’m not willing to risk my mental health for an overpriced illegal basement suite living with screaming children anymore (for which, of course, I will have to find a subletter — and then do the whole process over again next year, and the year after that).
Essentially, I would rather stop going to school to build a tiny house to live in so that I can afford to go back to school. I’ve done the math. Logistically, this is actually a reasonable option for anyone willing to put in the time and effort into a longer-term lifestyle change. And you know what? As ridiculous as it sounds, I think it would be a great change for a lot of students who are struggling to pay ridiculous amounts of rent for illegal suites. Because it’s not fair for me, as a student, to be worrying about having a roof over my head and a quiet place to study on top of actual academics. How am I supposed to concentrate on deadlines and grades when I’m trying to figure out my tenant rights and go to dispute resolution with my landlords during finals season every year? And between all of this, I’m still trying to feed myself, find part-time jobs, and be a functioning human.
The only part about UVic that I’ll miss while I’m building my tiny house is CARSA. It’s a shame I won’t have the option of paying more than $200 per year to lift things up and put them back down again to relieve the catastrophic stress that being a student here has put me through.
I’m not upset, just disappointed.